The legend of “Samjogo” narrates the story of an imaginary bird with three legs, believed to live on the sun, or to symbolize the sun.
According to Chinese records, the concept of the three-legged crow came from the observation that the black spot on the sun resembled a crow, and that the number three in traditional cosmology indicates light, or yang energy, or that the number three itself indicates the sun. In Korea, images of the three- legged crow have been found in murals of Goguryeo tombs No. 1 in Jinpa village and No. 1 in Deokhwa village.
There are two Korean legends that feature the three-legged crow.
First is the orally transmitted legend of Mt. Geumo, located in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province. Mt. Geumo was originally called Mt. Daebon (Great Roots). An envoy from Tang China followed an iridiscent bird to this mountain, where he disappeared. The mountain has since been called Mt. Geumo, meaning golden crow.
Second is the legend of Yeono and Seo, a husband and wife who lived on the eastern coast in the kingdom of Silla. In the 4th year of King Adalla’s reign (157), the couple rode on a floating rock and went to Japan, where they were enthroned as king and queen, while back in Silla, light from the sun and the moon disappeared. An official who examined the phenomenon reported that it was due to the move of the energy of the sun and the moon from Silla to Japan. King Adalla sent an envoy to Japan and requested Yeono and Seo to return, but Yeono responded that the problem would be solved if silk fabric woven by Seo was taken to Silla for a ritual to the heavens. When they did as told, light was restored to the sun and the moon.
In the Mt. Geumo legend, the sun bird crow is featured as a central element in the geographical name, and in the the legend of Yeono and Seo, the crow appears as a personification, as reflected in the names of the husband and wife, which both bear the Chinese character 烏, meaning crow. Considering that the sun is a celestial being that also stands for the king in the terrestrial world, the crow in the Mt. Geumo legend has been diminished, from a symbol of political power to a mere divine object.
In the legend “Sageumgap (The King Shoots an Arrow into the Zither Case), ” the crow appears as a divine harbinger that delivers the message that the king is about to be killed by his subjects, which saves the king’s life. To commemorate the crow, the king designated the first full moon of the first lunar month (Grand Full Moon) as Ogiil (Crow Commemoration Day), observed with a ritual offering sticky rice as sacrifice, rooted in mythological worship of the three-legged crow.
The three-legged crow is an important symbol of Goguryeo’s cultural legacy that serves as a reference in the relationship between sun worship in Goguryeo and mythological symbolism.